Bill to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation, Enhance Protections for Survivors Heads to Governor

Legislation addresses image-based sexual harassment, coercive control, and extends the statute of limitations for certain domestic violence offenses

(BOSTON—6/13/2024) – The Massachusetts Legislature today enacted comprehensive legislation that criminalizes the non-consensual sharing of explicit images known as “revenge porn,” creates a diversion program for teens who share explicit images, statutorily defines coercive control as an element of domestic abuse, and extends the statute of limitations to pursue criminal charges for certain domestic violence offenses from six years to 15 years. Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) supported enactment of the legislation in the Massachusetts Senate. 

“This legislation closes critical gaps in our laws that have prevented victims whose explicit images were shared without their consent from receiving adequate protections,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I am glad that this legislation addresses specific diversion options for teenagers to correct their misconduct and I look forward to Governor Healey signing this bill into law so that our state can curb these behaviors of the digital age and provide more recourse for victims.” 

To address the nonconsensual distribution of explicit images by adults, the bill establishes a penalty in the existing criminal harassment statute which includes up to two and a half years of prison time and/or a monetary fine of up to $10,000. The bill increases the upper limit of the fine for criminal harassment from $1,000 to $5,000. If signed into law, the bill would also empower victims to petition the court for a harassment prevention order against a person who has violated the new statute. 

The legislation also responds to the growing trend of individuals utilizing artificial intelligence and other digital imaging software to produce “deep fakes” of unsuspecting victims, a practice currently not prohibited under state law. These images, which are equally traumatizing to victims, often realistically depict a person’s face edited on to an unclothed body, making it challenging or impossible for viewers to determine what is reality.  

Under current law, minors who possess, purchase, or share explicit photos of themselves or other minors are charged with violating child pornography laws and are required to register as sex offenders. The legislation passed today directs the Attorney General to establish an educational program to teach minors about the dire consequences and life-altering impacts caused by engaging in this behavior. The bill also allows the Commonwealth’s courts to divert minors to an educational program in lieu of sentencing to criminal punishment while providing district attorneys with the authority to petition the court to bring criminal charges in extreme cases. The educational diversion program would provide teenagers with information about the legal and nonlegal consequences of sexting, which would be made available to school districts.  

The bill passed today adds coercive control to the definition of abuse. Coercive control is a nonphysical form of abuse that includes a pattern of behavior intended to threaten, intimidate, harass, isolate, control, coerce or compel compliance of a family or household member in a manner that causes the targeted individual to fear physical harm or to have a reduced sense of physical safety or autonomy. Examples of coercive control include threating to share explicit images, regulating or monitoring a family or household member’s communications and access to services, and isolating a family or household member from friends or relatives. 

The legislation passed today also extends the statute of limitations for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active protective order from six years to 15 years. This change brings the statute of limitations for these domestic violence offenses in line with the statute of limitations for the crimes of rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sex trafficking. 

The same version of the bill having been passed by both chambers, the legislation now goes to the Governor’s desk for her signature.